The decision to conduct the third Federal Election debate on Facebook shows how important social media has become in modern politics.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes the online debate will reach a larger number of voters than previously possible.
“These are the platforms that many people … see most of their media on, most of their news,” Mr Turnbull told a press conference. “So this debate will enable millions of Australians to participate. They will be able to contribute.”
The decision follows a trend of political parties and candidates adopting social media as part of their daily routine; using Facebook and Twitter in particular to connect more with voters.
Clara Williams-Roldan, the Greens candidate for Warringah, told The Newsroom this year’s federal election campaigns have highlighted candidates’ reliance on social media to reach a greater number of constituents.
“[How] my campaign approaches social media is a lot different to how a Greens campaign would be run in the past,” she said. “In short, we’re still trying to connect with locals and talk about what issues they’re likely to vote on.”
Dr Andrea Carson, a lecturer in media and politics at the University of Melbourne, believes the decision to hold the next leaders’ debate on Facebook is a smart move by the Prime Minister.
“I think it is an innovative thing to be doing,” she told The Newsroom. “The first [US] Republican presidential primary was also broadcast on Facebook… and they had more traffic than they had ever had before.
“In recent decades campaigns have become highly professionalised… [politicians] need to communicate on multiple mediums.”
With most politicians using social media, there is sometimes confusion about who actually is doing the posting because press secretaries and social media experts often assume the role. The United States’ President Barack Obama signs off on personal posts with the initials BO and former prime minister Kevin Rudd chose the moniker KRudd to acknowledge personal message authenticity.
“I think it’s a bit of both, really,” Dr Carson said. “Obviously, they have no physical time… it’s naive to expect politicians to be doing all the uploading.”
But the use of social media experts has led to criticism: NSW Premier Mike Baird copped flak from the opposition for spending public money on his “obsessive self promotion”. His posts have ranged from taking his daughters to see Taylor Swift to helping the homeless, and even confused and humorous posts throughout The Bachelor finale, while stuck at home on the couch with “man flu”.
Dr Carson says that unlike many politicians Mr Baird engages in the conversation and understands the medium. To date, Mike Baird has 58,000 followers on Twitter and 101,000 likes on his Facebook page.
“What Mike Baird is doing is very effective,” she said. “Voters not only look at issues, but they look at a candidate’s personality.
“He shows his humanity… shows he has a sense of humour.”
A criticism of not only Baird’s, but most politicians’, use of social media is that posts can also be used to distract people or tone down other important issues.
Parties and candidates now also use memes to appeal to younger voters and get their message across in a simple and effective way. Some candidates embrace selfies as a way to connect with the younger generation.
Another Warringah candidate, Marie Rowland of the Nick Xenophon Team, believes social media has to go hand in hand with actions away from the screen.
“It is terrific as it gets to people directly without the participant or the politician having to get up off their seat but it still doesn’t beat real engagement,” she told The Newsroom.
“People seeing you as a candidate reaching out and taking the time to meet them still matters.” – Story by Matthew Buchanan, video by Phillip Logan
Top photo from Malcolm Turnbull’s Facebook page.